Table manners in the Kingdom of God

The other I went to a lunch featuring a speaker from our local school system. In speaking to a friend, they were invited to move from the place they had chosen to the ‘head’ table. I was reminded to two thing: attending an alumni banquet were a group of classmates chose a table on the side, but up front, only to be asked to move, the host had neglected to mark it as a reserved table, and Sunday’s reading from Luke and Jesus’ teaching about how to chose where to sit. My friend knew her scripture better than my seminary classmates and I. Only I don’t think Jesus is a 1st century Emily Post.

Scott Hoezee writes that to understand Sunday’s Gospel reading we have to include the next parable, about the great banquet. (1)  Jesus arrives at the Pharisee’s house, and immediately meets a sick man, and so he asks if it is legal to heal him. (Remember the healing on the Sabbath controversy two weeks ago.) His host and the other guests are silent, Jesus quotes the approving scripture, and heals the man, which has got to put everyone on edge, it is a rather brash thing to do. Who knows where the conversation would have gone, except that it’s time for dinner.

As everyone makes their way into the dinning room, Jesus notes the jostling for the most honored seating, a big deal in the honor society of the day, which has real life consequences. And of course he tells an etiquette parable about seeking a humble place at dinner. Our clue to the point of Jesus’ etiquette parable, is the one follows about who to invite to your next banquet, those who can not reciprocate; who can not offer an invitation in return. The etiquette busting bit, comes when Jesus tells a third parable, about a great dinner party when on the day of the party all the guest make excuses for not coming, they had more important things to do. The hosts response is to send servants into the streets to invite poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame, all those without any honor. Emerson Powery notes (2) Jesus challenges the whole notion of the social honor system, tearing down the caste and class systems, eliminating any distinction between people.

Who would have ever guessed that table manners not only reveals what you think about yourself, but about others, about God.

 

1. Scott Hoezee, Center for Excellence in Preaching, September 1, Proper 17, Luke

2. Emerson Powery Working Preacher, September 1, Proper 17, Luke

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